The HPV Vaccine for Boys: What's the Deal?

“I did not get an “A” in Biology 101, Doc, but I am pretty sure that my son can’t get cervical cancer. So, what’s the deal with this vaccine?”

I have been talking with the parents of my pre-teen girls about cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV), and the HPV vaccine since its release in 2006.  After years of discussing this vaccine, I have heard some great comments, and valid concerns, from parents making the decision to vaccinate their girls.

This week, my conversations are going to be changing. On Tuesday, the ACIP (who I lovingly refer to as “The Vaccine Experts in the Sky”) expanded the official recommendation for the HPV vaccine.

It is now recommended that 9-11 year-old girls and boys receive the HPV vaccine.

Why?

Because we have a vaccine that protects our kids from cancer.

Since 2006, over 40 million doses of the HPV vaccine have been given to pre-teen and teen kids in our nation. Throughout that time, vaccinologists have been scouring analytical data in order to determine cancer types associated with HPV infection that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Based on data collected by the CDC, 18,000 HPV-associated cancers affect women (cervical cancer is the most common) and 7,000 HPV-associated cancers affect men (head and neck cancer is the most common). HPV also causes most cases of genital warts in men and women, about 1 case in every 100 sexually active adults.

Currently, over 20 million people are infected with HPV in the US. With the significance of HPV-associated cancers in our communities, combined with the amount of HPV-associated disease that directly affects our kids; protection from HPV has become increasing relevant for both girls and boys.

So, how will vaccinating boys with the HPV vaccine make a difference?

  • The vaccine will protect boys from head and neck cancers, cancers that are not able to be screened for and are difficult to cure.
  • The vaccine will protect boys from genital warts caused by the HPV virus.
  • The vaccine may decrease the chance that boys will transmit a cancer-causing virus to an intimate partner whom he cares about.

Researchers and scientists have spent decades hovering over laboratory benches, analyzing results, and holding the hands of those suffering from cancer; just trying to find a way to decrease the burden of this disease. The thought of something as simple as a “cancer shot” used to be outrageous fantasy.

I agree with Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC who believes this recommendation is “another milestone in the nation’s battle against cancer.” This “cancer shot” is a dream realized; a pinnacle of decades of work, creativity, dedication, and devotion to a cause. Most importantly, the HPV vaccine is an opportunity to protect our kids from a disease from which thousands have suffered and lost their lives.

So what’s the deal with this vaccine?

We have a shot against cancer.

And I, for one, think it is amazing.

Educate yourself about HPV disease, learn about how the HPV vaccine can prevent infection, and get your questions answered. Partner with your healthcare provider to make a plan for your daughter and son. The opportunity is in your hands.

For more information:

The Vaccine Education Center from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

The Centers for Disease Control

You may also enjoy Dr. Denise Somsak’s wonderful series on HPV, part 1, part 2, and part 3. She is a private pediatrician in Cincinnati, OH who writes at “The Pensive Pediatrician”.